published Friday, December 17th, 2010

Growth shifts to suburbs

Gil Stone lived all over the country during his military and TVA career and could have retired almost anywhere.

When the nuclear engineer quit his full-time work two years ago, he and his wife, Irene, decided to build their dream home in Collegedale's senior planned community known as Greenbriar Cove.

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    Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Greg Vital, the developer of Greenbriar Cove, speaks about the growth of the retirement community in Collegedale while standing in front of Garden Plaza of Greenbirar Cove.

"It's a beautiful natural setting close to Chattanooga where we once lived," Stone said Wednesday. "We don't have to drive very far to do our shopping or to get to what we need."

The Stones are among hundreds of seniors who have moved into one of the homes, apartments or health care facilities built in Greenbriar, a former cattle farm.

The nearly $100 million Greenbriar development, built over the past seven years, is part of a shift to the east in Hamilton County's growth over the past decade, making Collegedale the fastest-growing municipality in Hamilton County so far in the 21st century.

"Collegedale has grown in the past decade from a bedroom community to a small suburban city with a lot of attractions and amenities," said Greg Vital, a former Collegedale city commissioner who led the development of Greenbriar Cove through his Independent Healthcare Properties. "You have the amenities of a college campus in a suburban setting and you're only five minutes from the new Volkswagen plant."

The new suburbs in Collegedale, Soddy-Daisy and Walden had the fastest rates of growth in the total value of their properties over the past decade, according to data compiled by the Hamilton County Assessor's Office. The older, landlocked cities of East Ridge and Red Bank grew only half as fast as their newer counterparts from 2000 to 2010.

But even with a drop in median home prices during the recent recession, the overall value of taxable property in Hamilton County as a whole still rose nearly three times the inflation rate since 2000.

"We saw some slowdown in the past few years, but we've been very fortunate to continue to see the addition of new homes, stores, factories and other buildings to increase the assessed value of our county," Hamilton County Assessor Bill Bennett said.

With the expected growth from new businesses such as Volkswagen and Amazon and other expanding companies such as Alstom Power, mayors from Chattanooga to Collegedale say the community needs to get ready to double its population in the next generation.

"I really believe we need to prepare to double in size," Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said. "It's just a matter of time with all the growth we have under way."

Reversal of fortune

Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who will become deputy to the governor of Tennessee in January, said the Chattanooga area has fared better than most communities in the past decade after suffering major manufacturing job losses in the early 1980s.

Chattanooga was among only a few metropolitan areas anywhere in the country to bounce back from population losses in the 1980s to record gains in the past two decades.

"The goal is not to stop, but to keep building upon what successes we've had," Ramsey said. "A lot of this growth will center on Collegedale and Soddy-Daisy, but we've also got a lot of room to grow with infill in places where we already have infrastructure in place."

Nearly two-thirds of the county's property value is in Chattanooga, which added more than $2 billion in property value in the past decade, records show. The fastest growth came in residential properties, which rose rapidly in value during the first part of the decade from both new building and price appreciation, Bennett said.

Despite the growth in property values for most of the past decade, however, Chattanooga reported a slight dip in total assessed value during 2010 -- the first such decline in the records available for such yearly changes.

Suburban areas showed continued growth in property values, however.

From 2000 to 2010, the value of taxable properties in Collegedale nearly tripled, while Soddy-Daisy and the unincorporated portions of Hamilton County more than doubled in value.

Soddy-Daisy Mayor Jim Adams said he is eager for his city to continue to grow, and is confident the town can support another motel, shopping center, grocery store and upscale restaurant.

"We have a great setting, being on [Chickamauga] lake and having open areas for development only a few minutes from Chattanooga," Adams said. "It's inevitable that we're going to have growth and we welcome that growth, and look forward to it. My goal is to build the retail and commercial side of that growth along with the residential additions we expect to see in the future."

Highways to growth

Both Collegedale and Soddy-Daisy benefit from their highway connections to Chattanooga along U.S. Highway 27 to the north for Soddy-Daisy and Interstate 75 to the east for Collegedale.

"When I was growing up in Soddy in the 1940s, the joke used to be that Soddy wasn't the end of the world but you could see it from there," the 75-year-old Soddy-Daisy mayor recalled. "Corridor J (Highway 27) gave us a much faster link for Chattanooga and Dayton."

Collegedale officials expect the planned five-lane road from I-75 to Collegedale at the new Volkswagen exit will propel even more growth.

Collegedale Mayor John Turner said a planning group known as Collegedale Tomorrow has traveled to the Nashville suburb of Franklin in Williamson County to study how that city established design standards to help upgrade new development in the area.

"We've enjoyed both residential and commercial growth in Collegedale, but we're trying to make sure we have planned growth to continue to make our city a great place to live and not just growing for growth sake," Turner said.

Contact staff writer Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.

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